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BY SAM SPOKONY | In the aftermath of the Jan. 4 shooting death of Raphael Ward, 16 — a resident of the Lower East Side’s Baruch Houses who officials believe was killed for his coat — some other Baruch residents said they want police to increase their patrols around the complex.
“I’m not sure if this will change anything, but I’d definitely feel safer if there was a bigger police presence,” said Josh Cedeno, 29, who has lived in the development for two years.
He added that, while he believes the 17-building public housing complex is still a relatively secure place in which to live, this incident — and what he feels is a lackluster police presence — has given him some second thoughts.
“Now, if someone asked me if they should move here, I’d tell them to think about it,” Cedeno said.
Shortly after 9 p.m. on Jan. 4, Ward was shot in the chest after a scuffle with a group of teens near the corner of Columbia and Rivington Sts., about a block away from the Baruch Houses apartment where he lived with his mother and younger brother, according to police. He died later that night in Beth Israel Hospital.
While the gunman remains at large, cops are now searching for four suspects who were spotted on security cameras in a nearby grocery store a few minutes before the shooting.
Another Baruch resident, a man who declined to give his name but said he’s lived in the complex for around 30 years, also said following Ward’s death that he believes there should be more police on patrol. He chalked up a recently decreasing presence — based on his own observations — to an incident that occurred at Baruch last February, when Police Officer Thomas Richards was shot while patrolling the development.
In that case, Richards was miraculously unharmed because a metal gun clip attached to his belt stopped the incoming bullet.
With the most recent shooting in mind, the aforementioned unnamed Baruch resident went on to say that he hopes there is more than just a short-term response from area police.
“You’ll see more cops patrolling around here for the next few days because of this, but I don’t know about after that… . I guess we’ll see,” he said.
A 57-year-old resident, who identified himself only as Dave and said he’s lived in Baruch for his entire life, wasn’t surprised by the crime. He explained that, while he’s never been involved in a dangerous situation within Baruch, he always keeps his head down at night because of drug deals and possible gang-related activity he sometimes sees in the area.
“At night you can’t talk to anybody, you can’t trust anybody,” Dave said.
He added that while there is certainly a genuine police presence around Baruch, he thinks there “hasn’t been a lot” recently, compared to past years.
A 25-year-old resident, who identified herself as Nicole and said she’s also lived in Baruch for her whole life, didn’t talk much about the overall patrolling presence but said that, lately, cops haven’t been very quick or effective in their responsive to crimes reported within the development.
“Last week I made a report about a domestic disturbance that was happening in an apartment above me, and it took the police over an hour to show up,” Nicole said. “And they just didn’t have a smart response to the situation. They didn’t let me report it anonymously, which I thought was endangering my own safety, and they were questioning me when they could’ve been upstairs investigating the crime.”
Police Department patrols within Baruch and the surrounding public housing developments are typically handled by Police Service Area 4, whose headquarters are located at Avenue C and E. Eighth St. The department’s Seventh Precinct also covers basically all of the Lower East Side.
The Police Department did not respond to request for comment.
Baruch Houses is the largest New York City Housing Authority development in Manhattan. Its 17 buildings contain nearly 2,200 apartments and nearly 5,400 residents.
Mendez: dialogue, youth programs needed
In an interview on Tuesday, City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, whose district includes Baruch Houses, said that there needs to be some “real dialogue” within the Lower East Side community in the aftermath of Ward’s tragic death.
“Our society has become so desensitized to killings and shootings, and we need to have more conversations with the young people of our community to let them know that something like this — for a boy to lose his life over a coat — this is absolutely unacceptable,” Mendez said.
She went on to say that she believes these types of discussions — focused on stopping youth violence and instilling the sense that all actions have consequences — should be taking place more often within public schools, including middle and high schools, but also for younger children.
In addition, Mendez said that school-based efforts should be supplemented by increased funding for area youth programs, which can provide activities — such as athletics, hobbies or other skills training — that place kids in a productive environment away from the streets. She stressed that Mayor Bloomberg needs to stop cutting funding to such organizations, and that she now plans to collaborate with the community’s other elected officials and the remaining youth centers to see what kind of new outreach can be done to neighborhood kids.
“We need to all work together on this, and call some kind of forum soon to get it going,” Mendez said. “We need to take the grief that we’re feeling now and try to turn it into something positive.”
On a more personal note, the councilmember also said that while she didn’t know Ward, he was a close friend of her goddaughter, since the two were around the same age and went to school together.
“So this one hit close to home, and I heard that he was a really good kid,” Mendez said. “A lot of people are feeling this loss, in many different ways.”